MERIDEN — A gravestone found in a city man’s basement has received a home at YMCA Camp Sloper in Southington.
On a cool, breezy morning, four men lifted the headstone of Cornelia Bristol Sloper and her daughter Cornelia, who both died in 1837, out of a basement of a Reservoir Avenue home.
City resident Shawn Hard found the headstone about four years ago. He wasn’t sure what to do with it, so he reached out to mayor’s office constituent caseworker Eddie Siebert, who got in touch with administration from the Southington-Cheshire YMCA and Camp Sloper in Southington.
The men were at Hard’s house in July to view the headstone and moved it on Friday.
“It’s very unique,” said John Myers, executive director of the Southington-Cheshire YMCA. “It’s something that doesn’t happen every day.”
Myers, YMCA director of operations Tony Palmieri and YMCA director of facilities management Paul Bissonnette were at Hard’s home with Siebert to get the headstone out of the basement.
The limestone grave reads, “Cornelia, wife of David R. Sloper died Feb. 24 1837.” Under that inscription it says that Cornelia, their daughter, died on May 26, 1837.
Myers, who is aware of the Sloper history, said Cornelia Bristol Sloper is probably the first wife of David R. Sloper. Cornelia Bristol Sloper reportedly died at the age of 25 as a result of childbirth. The couple’s daughter, listed on the headstone, died at 5 months old. David Sloper then married a woman named Augusta. They had a daughter named Cornelia, or Nellie. Nellie donated the Sloper property on East Street to the YMCA in 1948. The first YMCA day camp began in 1950.
“It’s just a sign of the times,” Myers said. “There were three Cornelias. It was a different way of life.”
In the basement, Siebert led the team. They walked through the bulkhead or basement entry doors into the dusty room. Siebert placed a ladder on the bulkhead’s staircase. The men, wearing gloves, then proceeded to wrap the fragile gravestone in a blanket. They gently walked it over to the ladder. They slid the stone across the ladder.
“It was a task,” Siebert said about lifting the tombstone. He guessed it was about 400 pounds and Myers thought it was even more.
“It’s actually lighter than I thought,” Bissonnette said.
Once it got to the top of the stairs, the group carefully carried it to a pickup truck.
“We’re pallbearers of the tombstone,” Palmieri said.
As the men prepared to lift the heavy stone into the truck, Hard took out his harmonica and began playing “Amazing Grace.”
“I just want to send it home where it belongs,” Hard said. “It’s time for the girls to go home. It belongs where it came from.”
The tombstone will be set up in Camp Sloper’s memorial garden. The garden is on the right of the Sloper property when visitors pull into the camp. Myers said the area is a place to remember those who have passed.
“It’s a tranquil place,” he said. “We’ll get it up there.”
In the meantime, YMCA staff is going to do some research on how to preserve the old gravestone. It was in a basement for years, but now it will experience the elements.